August 29, 2009 by David A. Brown
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - If you have to give up a two-day lead, at least yield it to someone you like. Suffice it to say, New Hampshire pro Joe Lucarelli probably felt OK about watching his dad, Steve, surge past him to win the Stren Northern Division event on Lake Champlain.
The elder Lucarelli was visibly overcome with mixed emotions - a sentimental blend of victorious glee tempered with a bit of sadness over his son's understandable disappointment. When Joe topped the pro division on day one, Steve placed ninth and proudly stated: "I'd finish behind him any day."
Nevertheless, there can be only one winner on paper. For his accomplishment, Steve Lucarelli took home $20,561 and a Ranger boat, motor and trailer package.
The final round saw cloudy, blustery conditions turn to an all-out drench-fest by midday. Despite rough water, which made boat positioning and finesse presentations very challenging, all 10 pros and nine co-anglers caught limits.
Steve Lucarelli's 20-pound, 6-ounce bag was the day's largest. Added to 18-15 from day one and 17-11 on day two, his final round effort yielded a total of 57-0 and a winning margin of 1 pound, 3 ounces.
When he loaded his fish into the in-water weigh-in tank, it was one big brown beast after another - that is, until he pulled out a green one for No. 5. Apparently, friendly kidding from fellow anglers had him pretty proud of that largemouth.
Boldly displaying his last fish, Lucarelli said: "This is for all of my buddies back in New Hampshire who said I couldn't catch one of these."
Lucarelli caught his fish on a Carolina rigged lizard and a dropshot. With no interest in running to multiple spots in rough conditions, he staked out a promising area with good vegetation that was harboring abundant forage in about 18 feet. Patience proved to be the best strategy.
"These fish are transient - they're nomads," Lucarelli said. "We just had to wait for them to come by. Where I fished was a feeding station and I liked the particular combination of weeds. You just had to sit there and rot. That's my strength.
"This lake is too big, it was too rough and I'm too old to run around. I just find a spot that I think I can get them on and I wait them out."
Lucarelli bagged his largemouth - the fish that probably secured his victory with less than an hour before check-in. "That was something. A school of largemouth came through and I picked up three good ones, my co-angler picked up a few medium-sized ones and then they were gone."
Wrong wind pushes Joe Lucarelli down to second
He certainly appeared poised to lock up the wire-to-wire victory, but despite topping the field for the first two days and entering the final round with nearly a 3-pound lead, Central Harbor, N.H. pro Joe Lucarelli succumbed to simple mathematics - his dad's productivity increased, while his decreased. On day one, Lucarelli caught a limit weighing 21 pounds, 8 ounces and bolstered it with 18-3 on day two. In the finale, his 16-2 gave him a second-place total of 55-13.
Lucarelli relied mostly on a green pumpkin Gary Yamamoto Flappin Hog. He flipped this bait on a football head jig and fished it on a Carolina rig. He was hoping to capitalize on the strong largemouth action he had found earlier in the week, but with the day's blow coming mostly from the east, Lake Champlain just didn't cooperate.
"I could work with any wind but an east wind," he said. "That east wind was right on my (largemouth) water and kind of wrecked it. I had to switch up to smallmouth, but they just didn't bite well. I got one good one and that was it.
"There was a brief period when the wind switched from east to south. The water kind of slicked off and the fish bit for about 40 minutes and then they just quit."
Lucarelli ended up catching his limit of smallies over clean bottom with abundant grass in 20-22 feet. Noting the fishing tradition he shares with his father, he said: "He always used to tell me `You can't get into trouble when you have a fishing rod in your hand'."
Despite slow start, Sheldrake rises to third
His 19-pound, 8-ounce stringer was second only to Steve Lucarelli's winning bag, but when the dust settled Donald Sheldrake of Sandford, Ont., had risen four notches to finish third. Adding his final day score to his 17-10 and 17-13 from days one and two gave him a total of 54-15.
"The day actually didn't start off too well," Shelldrake said. "I got one good fish early in the morning and by 11 o'clock, I still only had one fish. I told my co-angler that we would fish until 2 o'clock, no matter what we had. I wasn't prepared to beat the boat up or beat our fish up, so that was the plan."
Fortunately, Shelldrake had located a productive spot earlier in the week that had produced well for him and another boat during days one and two. Returning to that spot proved to be his day-saver.
"We just kept refining our drifts and got lucky and caught some nice fish," Shelldrake said. "I caught almost every one of my fish on a Carolina rig with a green lizard. They loved that bait today."
Kennedy celebrates birthday with fourth place finish
Jimmy Kennedy of Plainfield, Vt., celebrated his birthday on Lake Champlain and the bass were generous enough to give him a nice gift - an 18-pound, 9-ounce stringer that moved him up four spots to a fourth-place finish with 53-15.
"I forgot it was my birthday until my co-angler reminded me," Kennedy said. "I kind of got off to a slow start after that."
Kennedy reached the top-10 with consistent performances of 17-15 and 17-7 on the first two days. On day three, he caught his fish on dropshots rigged with Slammers and wacky-rigged Senkos. For his mixed bag, he fished over isolated rocks in 30 feet of water for smallmouth and targeted shallow weed beds for largemouth.
Baksay falls back to fifth
Easton, Conn. pro Terry Baksay placed 22nd on day one with 16-15 on day one, but made a big move on day two with a 19-pound, 13-ounce bag that pulled him up 20 spots to second place. The day three weather fiddled with his pattern just enough to take back three of those spots and Baksay's final catch of 16-5 gave him a fifth-place 53-1 total.
Unable to get bit on the hard baits he preferred, Baksay threw Mizmo tubes and dropshots with 4-inch Slug-Gos and Slammers. Baksay reported staying busy with plenty of action, but he found quality fish few and far between.
"I probably caught 50 fish today, but I never caught so many pound-and-a-half fish in my life," he said.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the Stren Series Lake Champlain event:
6th: Jason Ober of Johnstown, Pa., 52-10
7th: Michael Wolfenden of Warwick, RI, 52-3
8th: Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario, 51-3
9th: Raymond Gratton of Swanton, Vt., 50-14
10th: Michael Drew of West Burke, Vt., 50-3